Winter savory (Satureja montana) has been a member of my Virginia garden for a number of years. My plant is in full sun, in poor soil, and has never been bothered by diseases or deer. Hardy to zone 6, my winter savory has grown to be a short, woody shrub, about a foot tall. The green, needle-like foliage is less than an inch long, with many leaves per branch. Now, in February, the leaves are bronze-purple because of the cold. In the summer, the green plant is covered in small, white flowers, attracting beneficial insects and pollinators, including bees.
I like winter savory for two reasons. It retains its leaves and transforms color in the winter, adding interest to the garden. It is a great pollinator plant, which I need for my summer veggies. Although winter savory foliage can be used for cooking, I tend to leave it alone and let it flower. For the kitchen, I grow its cousin, summer savory (Satureja hortensis). Summer savory is an annual herbaceous plant with similar foliage only a bit longer and not as woody. It is easy to grow from seed once frost has passed. Since I harvest the leaves for cooking I tend to disrupts summer savory’s ability to flower. Although it produces similarly shaped flowers, it is not grown for its flowers.
Savories are very old herbs, used for more than 2,000 years. Interestingly, there are two theories for the “Satureja” name. One is that it is a derivative of za’atar, a general name of eastern Mediterranean herbs with oregano-like aroma. The other theory is that Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, called the plant “satureia,” meaning “of the satyrs.” The satyrs are the mythical half horse/half man animals who eat plants such as savory to achieve a great level of sexual stamina (thought you might find that handy since Valentine’s Day is this week).
Today, savory is known as the bean herb. Chefs tend to use the summer savory leaves to flavor beans, stews, tomato-based sauces, vinegars, stuffing mixtures, vegetables, meat marinades, chicken salad, and soups. They are an ingredient in herbes de Provence and fines herbs. They blend well with other herbs such as parsley, marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. Both summer and winter savory have thymol and carvacrol, the characteristic aromas of oregano and thyme. However, winter savory is more pungent and has been used as a pepper substitute.
This summer, buy both and grow them for the garden, the pollinators, and for zest in your meals!